Scientists who study hyenas often express downright despair at what they believe are unfair stereotypes of their subjects, whom they see as intelligent and even beautiful creatures. But that image is not the one that flickers in the public imagination. According to University of California, Berkeley, biologist Stephen Glickman, when Disney animators went to a hyena research facility to make sketches for The Lion King, scientists there made a plea for showing the predators in a more positive light—but the trio of hyenas in the movie turned out to be less than lovable.
A few examples of hyenas' public relations challenges are listed below:
• Hyenas are considered a favorite mode of transportation for witches in Tanzania and India.
• Sudanese folklore and Persian medical writings from the 14th century warn of a combination man and hyena, similar to a werewolf, who attacks people under cover of darkness.
In the Middle Ages, hyenas were believed to dig up and consume human corpses.
• In Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway wrote about "Fisi, the hyena, hermaphroditic self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain . . . "
• But on a more positive note, Roman scholar Pliny the Elder believed that the skin of a hyena's head would cure a headache. And in some cultures, hyena body parts are considered to work wonders as love potions and aphrodisiacs.